Outlet Food Co.

By Janet Davies

Kirstyn and Daniel Mayers are playing their part in the evolution of County cuisine. Outlet Food Co. is not a big operation – yet. With two children under five they’re keeping it manageable, having fun and serving up the kind of food they both love best. Kirstyn told us about it.
We operate mainly out of the Wellington Farmers Market on Saturdays in the summer, but we also do pop-ups, kitchen takeovers, and festivals. At the market we sell fusion food: jerk chicken wraps, roti, curries, pho broth, and seasonal salads. Our pop-up menus vary according to the location and the season. Since January we’ve been doing smoked chickens at Norman Hardie Winery in his beautiful smoker, and we’ll do Maple Smoked Salmon for Maple in the County. We were at Trail Estate Winery last year and did a Maple Bacon Mac and Cheese with Fifth Town’s awesome Maple Goat Cheddar.

IT’S SEASONAL

What we make is based on what’s available to us locally and what fits with the season. At Parsons Brewery for the launch of Heritage Week in February we did a beef stew with parsnip, leek, and barley. As the seasons change so do some menu items. I love doing quinoa salad with fresh peas in the Spring, and curry with squash in the Fall. That’s the beauty of being at the market, I can see what’s looking good that week and buy our ingredients directly from the farmer. It’s nice knowing where your food comes from. We’ve visited some of our suppliers like Blue Wheelbarrow, County Bounty, Jubilee, and Thyme Again so we can see with our own eyes that the product we’re buying is actually grown locally and sustainably.

WHAT’S A TAKEOVER?

Kitchen takeovers are really popular in The County right now, and they’re a great way for brick and mortar businesses to collaborate with a variety of local chefs. At Midtown Brewing Company  we don’t exactly take over the kitchen, but we set up in the parking lot and offer a dinner menu that is different from our usual market offerings. It’s a fun way to experiment with new dishes. At 555 Brewing Co. in Picton we actually take over their kitchen and get to use their woodfired pizza oven. The kitchen staff get a night off and we get our own restaurant for the night! And it’s good for the restaurant because it gives their customers some variety and hopefully attracts some new patrons. The whole pop-up idea is great, you get restaurant experience without having to own the space or make a huge investment. Like a lot of things in The County it is very collaborative. It’s hospitality industry people helping each other out, doing something different for the community, shaking it up.

OUTLET FOOD CO.

We started with two menu items, jerk chicken skewers and curry roti, which are two of our favourite things to eat. Daniel is half Guyanese and I’m half Chinese Malaysian, so we make food inspired by our backgrounds and upbringing – things we grew up eating and love to eat at home. When I say we do fusion food, I don’t mean putting two different items on the same menu side by side, I mean we put them together in one dish. So our jerk chicken wrap is boneless meat on Malaysian flatbread with coleslaw and Scotch Bonnet sauce. It’s not done like that in traditional Malaysian or Caribbean cuisine, but we’re not traditional, we just want to make food that tastes really good!

WHY THE COUNTY

My grandparents moved to The County when I was two, so it was always my second home. I lived here in the summer while my parents were working and we came throughout the off-season on weekends. Part of me always wanted to live here. When I met Daniel he wanted to live somewhere rural, and I said there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Prince Edward County.
I started working at Norman Hardie Winery in 2007 when I was 19. I did a bit of everything but was always drawn to cooking. There was always large staff meals, parties, and events to cook for, and I got some amazing experience cooking with some of the excellent chefs that would come out from Toronto on their days off.  I worked in the pizza kitchen the first three years it was open, and managed the back of house as part of my Hospitality Management Diploma co-op placement.

I left Norm’s to go on maternity leave with my first child in 2014. We lived in Toronto, but we bought land in The County hoping to eventually build a house. Somebody gave us a trailer so we came out here on weekends and camped out on the property. When our second child was six months old we went to our first Wellington Market and I fell in love with everything about it. Sam from The Shore was shucking oysters. It was so wonderful to have that kind of unique eating experience standing beside the lake in Wellington! I stayed up all that night thinking how we could be part of it, what could we offer? And I came up with our jerk chicken skewers. Nobody else was doing food like that, and it seemed like the perfect fit for somewhere like the market where you want to sample a bit of everything and eat while walking around shopping. Within a month we had our food stand up and running at the market.

Last summer we bought a house in Quinte West and moved out of the city. Daniel has to commute a couple of days a week for his fulltime sales job, but we work together at the market on weekends. I stay home during the week with the kids who are not in school yet, and I do all the shopping and prep. Outlet Food Co. is only three years old, but I’m really happy with the way it’s going. There is definitely demand for diverse food options. I think there’s a lot of room for new businesses, as long as you work hard and have something unique to offer.

PLANS AND PROMOTION

We promote ourselves mainly on Instagram, and County businesses cross-promoting each other is a huge part of that. If you’re doing a takeover or pop-up, the organizers/hosts spread the word and that introduces you to a whole new audience. The Wellington Market is great for getting our name out there, because everybody goes – industry people, residents, tourists, people from all over the region. It’s a fantastic way to network and get to know people. It’s one reason I was so eager to do the market. I wanted to be involved in the community and be part of what’s going on here, and food resonates with everybody!
Doing the smoker at Norm’s has been great. I think it’s the first time he’s done food in the winter, and despite that terrible cold and snow we had people still came out every single weekend. It would be minus 20 and they would huddle up to the fire with a glass of wine and food. If you build it they will come! People want to get out and do things, even in January. I’d say we’ve seen half and half locals and tourists coming out on Saturdays.

THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE

Was finding a place to live. We started looking seriously during that really crazy real estate time in The County last year. The market was red hot and sellers were accepting offers within a day of us finding their listing. You had to be here, and we couldn’t, so we relied on Cathy Polan, our realtor in Belleville. She had looked at houses with us in person so knew what we wanted. When we found our current home online, we asked her opinion on it and actually bought the house sight unseen! But her assessment was right, it’s perfect for us and we love it. It’s not in The County, it’s in Trenton, but I can be at the market in 25 minutes and Daniel’s commute to Toronto is a lot shorter.

THE FUTURE

For 10 years I have wanted to open a business or restaurant in The County, but my ideas change all the time with what I see happening here, what there is a demand for, and what my current passions are. I’m not locked into any firm plans or any one physical location yet. Doing pop-ups where there’s no existing kitchen and at the market where there’s no running water or electricity has shown me we can make it work anywhere! But there’s no rush, I really like what we are doing right now. We haven’t made a huge investment and I’m doing what I love. I get time during the week to spend with my kids and I get to work on my own schedule. When they’re in school full time I’ll be ready for more, but right now I’m really enjoying the work-life balance I have. My advice to anyone thinking of moving to The County and working here would be to work hard, get involved with the community and embrace it.

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